Health Advisories in the Pensacola Bay Area; 2018 Report

Since 2012, the Florida Sea Grant program in Escambia County has been monitoring the number of health advisories issued in the Pensacola Bay area.  The Florida Department of Health issues such advisories for brackish waterways when the concentration of Enterococcus bacteria within a 100-ml sample reaches 70 colony forming units (cfu) or higher.  Protocol requires that if a sample does have 70 cfu that a second sample be collected.  If this sample also reads at 70 or greater – a health advisory will then be issued and contact with this body of water should be avoided.

Citizen scientists monitoring water quality on Bayou Texar.
Photo: Marine Science Academy Washington High School

Enterococcus bacteria are found within the intestines of birds and mammals.  Though they can be found in other locations, most of them enter the environment when one of these animals defecates. Thus, the organism itself is a proxy for high levels of sewage in local waterways.  High levels of sewage could be harboring a variety of other pathogenic organisms that could cause such things as cholera or hepatitis.  Though Enterococcus could be from other organisms, high levels most likely have human waste as well.  There is a strong correlation between high levels of Enterococcus and rainfall amounts.

 

In 2018 the data shows an increase in the number of health advisories over the course of the year.

Thirteen stations were monitored by the FDOH in 2018.  The sites selected are known swimming beaches.  However, not all stations were monitored each week.  Due to budget shortfalls, FDOH only sampled two locations every week – all year.  Those were Bayou Texar and Sanders Beach.  Eight others: Bayou Chico, Bayou Grande, Big Lagoon State Park, Perdido Key State Park, Casino Beach, Park East, Park West, and Quietwater Beach were sampled every other week from March to October.  Three sites: Opal Beach, Johnsons Beach, and Ft. Pickens were sampled every other week from June to September.

 

These bodies of water were grouped into one of three groups (1) Perdido Key, (2) Pensacola, (3) Pensacola Beach.  The bodies of water for each group were:

Perdido Key:                     Big Lagoon SP, Perdido Key SP, Johnsons Beach

Pensacola:                        Bayou Texar, Bayou Chico, Bayou Grande, Sanders Beach

Pensacola Beach:            Casino Beach, Park East, Park West, Quietwater Beach, Opal Beach, Ft. Pickens

 

The following table provides the number of samples / month, (the number of advisories issued), and the percent of those samples in which an advisory was required.

Month Pensacola Perdido Key Pensacola Beach
Jan 12 (2)   17% 0 0
Feb 10 (3)   30% 0 0
Mar 12 (2)   17% 4 8
Apr 16 (4)   25% 3 5
May 18 (1)   6% 3 8
Jun 12 (4)   33% 6 12 (1) QW
Jul 16 (8)   50% 9 18 (2) PW OB
Aug 14 (3)   21% 6 10
Sep 11 (7)   64% 4 8
Oct 15 (7)   47% 5 4
Nov 13 (5)   38% 0 0
Dec 6 (4)   67% 0 0
TOTAL 155 (50) 32% 40 (0)   0% 73 (0)   0%

 

All of the advisories issued in these groups in 2018 were in the Pensacola area.  The three reported from Pensacola Beach were actually POOR readings but the second sample was not – so no advisory was actually issued.  QW is Quietwater Beach, PW is Park West, and OB is Opal Beach.

32% of the samples collected in the Pensacola area required a health advisory to be issued. 

 

The following table is a breakdown of the samples from the Pensacola area.

Month Texar Chico Grande Sanders Beach ALL % Advisories
Jan 5 (2) 0 0 7 7 (2) .28
Feb 4 (2) 0 0 6 (1) 10 (3) .30
Mar 4 (1) 2 (1) 2 4 12 (2) .17
Apr 4 (3) 2 (1) 2 4 12 (4) .33
May 5 (1) 2 2 6 15 (1) .07
Jun 4 (1) 2 (1) 2 (2) 4 12 (4) .33
Jul 5 (3) 3 (2) 3 (2) 5 (1) 16 (8) .50
Aug 4 (1) 2 (1) 2 (1) 6 14 (3) .21
Sep 3 (2) 2 (2) 2 (2) 4 (1) 11 (7) .64
Oct 5 (2) 3 (3) 2 (1) 5 (1) 15 (7) .47
Nov 4 (3) 2 (1) 0 7 (1) 13 (5) .38
Dec 3 (2) 0 0 3 (2) 6 (4) .67
TOTAL 50 (23) 20 (12) 17 (8) 54 (7)
Percent .46 .60 .47 .11

 

These data show:

  1. a) The number of samples taken (the number of advisories issued) – percent of samples requiring a health advisory.
  2. b) The percent of samples requiring an advisory increased over the year.
  3. c) The percent of samples requiring a health advisory was more than 40% of the time for all three bayous.
  4. d) Reminder that Bayou Texar and Sanders Beach are sampled every week – all year. This is not the case for Bayou’s Chico and Grande.

 

ALL STATIONS – 2018

Good                   0-35      colony forming units (cfus)

Moderate           36-70    cfus

Poor                    > 70       cfus

 

Body of Water Good Moderate Poor Advisories % of Sample
Bayou Texar 16 11 23 23 .46
Sanders Beach 32 9 20 7 .11
Bayou Chico 4 4 12 12 .60
Bayou Grande 6 3 8 8 .47
Big Lagoon SP 13 4 0 0 .00
Perdido Key SP 14 1 0 0 .00
Casino Beach 15 1 0 0 .00
Park East 15 1 0 0 .00
Park West 16 0 1 0 .00
Quietwater 15 1 1 0 .00
Opal Beach 7 0 0 0 .00
Johnson Beach 6 1 0 0 .00
Ft. Pickens 7 0 0 0 .00
TOTAL 166 36 65 50 .19

 

Overall, the number of samples requiring a health advisory was less that 20%.

 

What can be done to reduce this?

 

First, the all of the advisories issued came from the Pensacola area, so the focus of behavior changes should come from this area of the bay.  However, the suggestions should be considered by all residents of the bay area.  The majority of the advisories came from the three bayous which are fed by numerous creeks.  Within the entire watershed of these bayous residents and businesses can consider some of the following:

1)      If you are on a septic tank – consider connecting to the city sewer system.  Some neighborhoods will be doing this as part of the RESTORE funding.  Some areas of the state have funds to assist with this.  The extension office will be monitoring this.

2)      If you are on a septic tank and cannot tie into sewer (or wish not to) – consider a 5-year maintenance plan to help keep your septic tank in best working order.  Extension can provide a plan for you.

3)      If you are putting in a new septic tank – consider one of the newer designs and technologies.  Extension can provide information on these.

4)      If you are on sewer system you can help reduce sanitary sewage overflows (SSOs).  One of the largest problems sewer lines face is grease/oil being poured down the drains.  ECUAs FOG program (Fats Oils Grease) can provide you with alternatives.  ECUA provides 1-gallon plastic containers to place your grease/oils in.  You then take this back to the site where you got the gallon container and swap for a new one.  ECUAs website provides you the locations for these – and there is no charge.  http://www.ecua.fl.gov/green/fats-oils-and-grease.

5)      “Flushable wipes” do not degrade in the sewer system the way toilet paper does.  This will remain in the line and can cause SSOs.  Do not flush them.

6)      With the excessive rain many stormwater drains have become blocked by all sorts of debris.  This blockage can cause flooding in neighboring areas and flood waters can reach septic tank drain fields.  Assist with keeping all storm drains in your area clear of debris.

Sea Grant will continue to monitor FDOH Health Beaches reports in 2019 and will report again next January.  We hope to have no more than 30% of the samples collected require a health advisory.  That is from all bodies of water.  We will be monitoring weekly rainfall this year as well.